Helicopter parents of the last decade have been eclipsed:  have you heard the term lawnmower parents?

I think of a helicopter parent as hovering:  watching sports practices, keeping track of their child’s assignments, intervening with a teacher if necessary.   Lawnmower parents take involvement with their children to a whole new level.  Rather than just being there to respond if little Johnny has any problems, a lawnmower parent takes a more assertive approach.

What Is a Lawnmower Parent?

Rather than waiting to intervene, a lawnmower parent ensures there are no obstacles in Johnny’s way to prevent his success.  A blog on the site weareteachers.com included this definition:

“Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.  Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”

What does that look like, I ask myself?  Being the coach to ensure Johnny gets a good spot on the team and plenty of playtime?  Ingratiating one’s self with a teacher or administrator so Johnny gets extra help or a pass if he’s late with an assignment?

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from business people about parents calling companies after their child (a college graduate) was given an offer of employment.  The reason?  To lobby for higher wages or vacation time.  I’ve also heard about parents who routinely edit their college students’ work.  What is most surprising is seeing parents who truly had to struggle and work hard to earn their own success never let their kids taste failure, no matter how small.

How Lawnmower Parents Affect Their Kids

What does this protection teach our kids?  That they are not capable. How does this manifest itself over the course of middle school, high school and college?  Karen Fancher, a college professor, described these potential outcomes for children of lawnmower parents in an article:

  • Students become poorly equipped to deal with routine growing and learning experiences. This includes everything from asking for directions and dealing with an annoying roommate to much broader skills like communicating with superiors, negotiating for something she wants and coping with disappointment.
  • Since she only knows how to follow the path that the Lawnmower Parent has already prepared, the child doesn’t develop a sense of personal motivation or drive.
  • The student can’t make a decision, big or small, without the guidance of others.
  • The student constantly receives the message that she isn’t good enough to do this herself. In essence, the Lawnmower Parent is repeatedly demonstrating to the child that she cannot be trusted to accomplish things on her own.

Let Kids Succeed (and Sometimes Fail) on Their Own

Of course, there are many times when students need support and intervention from a parent.  They may simply lack the life experience to make important financial decisions about college, for example.  Or students who have disabilities of any kind may need support and advocacy from their parents.  But in many routine situations, it’s important to let kids do things on their own. They can then feel the satisfaction and confidence that comes with not having to rely on someone else.

In these times of high stakes everything, one might feel like a bad parent for refusing deliver homework to school after it was left on the kitchen table.  Or for not dropping off lunch, left at home for the second time this week.   Or for not running back to school to get a book needed to complete homework.  But the fact is, a zero in the grade book and hunger can offer low stakes lessons to a child who needs to be more responsible for himself.

A little failure, adversity and struggle can do a lot for building character.  Park the helicopter and put the lawnmower in the garage.